Apichatpong gives up, film cut further-Wise Kwai

March 14, 2008

[FACT comments: We are very disappointed Apichatpong has capitulated to the forces of evil which flexed their strength by cutting one more scene. But perhaps the director sees more impact in filmmaking than crusading. It is, however, going to take a tough director to refuse to give up to censorship. Their film would then be released in full to DVD locally with English subtitles for the international market and for free to Google Video. Only this approach can make an uncut film available in Thailand. But, of course, no one can recoup their extensive production costs this way.]

Apichatpong exhausted; ‘officially approved version’ of Syndromes and a Century prepared for screening in Thailand
Wise Kwai’s Thai Film Journal: March 14, 2008

Filmmaker Magazine has the latest in the saga of Syndromes and a Century, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s latest feature film, which was censored and banned in Thailand after it had been screened to universal acclaim at film festivals and commercial runs around the world.

In his review of Syndromes and a Century the Guardian Film Critic Peter Bradshaw, wrote that the film was “Profoundly mysterious, erotic, funny, gentle, playful, utterly distinctive, it is the work of the Thai director and installation-artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who now has a claim to be approaching the league of Kiarostami and Haneke, as one of modern cinema’s great practitioners.”

The film was one of six, commissioned under the artistic banner of New Crowned Hope, a festival of new and distinctive films from around the world, made under the Artistic Directorship of Peter Sellars and Executive Produced by myself, and my producing partner Simon Field. The whole project was acknowledged with a Special Citation at the L.A. Critics Awards this year for the production of “works marking major achievements in current world film”. Syndromes and a Century was also selected by many critics worldwide as one of their Top Ten choices of the year, and the film was one of the five short listed films for the BBC’s World Cinema Awards.

The film was originally set to be released nearly a year ago in a limited run in Bangkok, but the screenings were canceled by the director after the Censorship Board ordered that four scenes be cut from the film: Doctors drinking whiskey in a hospital conference room, a doctor kissing his girlfriend, and then having to adjust his erect penis inside his trousers, a Buddhist monk playing a guitar and a pair of monks playing with a remote-control flying saucer.

Apichatpong has continued to appeal against the cuts, and the results of the exhausting process have been made public. Here is an excerpt from Filmmaker, as related by producer Keith Griffiths:

Apichatpong Weerasethakul has resisted cutting these scenes, and both he and his producer have argued forcefully that far more violent and degrading films are approved every week for wide general release. Now their second appeal has been rejected after a ten-person committee screened the film in order to re-evaluate it. After the screening the filmmakers were permitted to defend their creative efforts, explain the background to the project as a whole and its inspiration. The committee comprised of representatives from the police, the Thai Film Federation, a film scholar, the journalist’s association, a consumer watch group, the Sankha (Buddhism) council, the Medical Council, and a “film expert”. Regretfully their “considered” reactions were not positive and summarised read like scenes from a play of the Theatre of the Absurd.

It was alleged that the film not only depicted Thai society in a bad light, but that it should not be shown to “outsiders” as it had no artistic merit. The filmmaker’s parents (the film was partly made as a tribute to them) should feel ashamed that their son exposed them in such a bad, distasteful and un-artful manner. However, a monk seen playing a guitar was acceptable, because foreign viewers might conclude that the monk was not from Thailand, but from Laos or Burma.

The previous censorship committee originally asked Apichatpong Weerasethakul to cut the four noted scenes from his film. But, after this fresh “appeal”, two more were added. Exhausted, depressed and humiliated by the whole experience, they finally agreed to accept the verdict and followed the print to an editing room, in the same building, where they were able to observe the objectionable scenes being removed. They documented this “cleansing” of the film with photos taken on their mobile phones.

But there is always the possibility of a final twist to this tortured tale, as what they now plan to do is to replace the censored scenes with silent scratched black leader. In total this will now amount to about 15 minutes. This print will then be released in Thai theatres, as the “officially approved version”. Apichatpong Weerasethakul now also intends to present the committee’s comments at the start of the film. Twelve months after the film’s world premiere in the Official Selection of the Venice Film Festival, Thai audiences will be able to finally see this locally produced and acclaimed masterpiece of cinema, interspersed with intermittent silent black scratched leader. The longest scene of silence will run for seven minutes. It is proposed that this “new approved version” of Syndromes and a Century should be released in a cinema for a week’s run. The director also intends to donate this special print to the National Film Archive, which one can only presume is what preserving National Heritage is all about.

If this latest development is indeed allowed to play out, the inimitable Joe will have turned adversity into something positive, artfully documenting the tortured process he had to go through to have this loving, gentle and moving tribute to his parents and his country screened commercially in his native land. Normally, I probably wouldn’t go see a censored version of a film, except for research purposes, and this will definitely be research. But this is also a completely different film. It’ll be interesting to see what audiences make of it.

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